The Series III, last of the ‘proper’ Landies, was introduced in 1971 and lasted until its 1985 succession by the new fangled coil-sprung Defender range. Land Rover production began back in 1948 with the 80” there was very little changed by the time the Series III came on to the scene. The 14 year production run spanned a very important period in the life of the marque, a period which included the fabulous new Range Rover.
So you want a piece of the Land Rover action? Well the Series III is probably the way to go. Currently the most reasonably priced of all the Series vehicles, there really are fantastic parts support and advice networks out there. The ease of use and service set it apart from many other road (or off-road) craft of the same era. Here’s a quick guide to the vehicles and some common pitfalls to keep and eye out for.
Chassis and Body:
There are only three points you need to look for here: rust, rust and rust. The factory corrosion protection was scanty at best in the 70s and early 80s and the biscuit was well-and-truly taken in the mid-to-late 70s when there was a batch of Landies which seemed to dissolve on delivery. Watch out for these. Key areas include the rear cross member (non-taper ended on military models), outriggers, spring hangers front and rear and most of the cross-members. Pretty much everywhere can disappear very easily but the gearbox cross-member (removable on military models) is usually protected by the oil leaks of the engine and transmission. Galvanised chassis increase values
The bulkhead is another of potential oxide collection. The drain holes in the screen mounts tend to block which leads to rot inward, outward and downward. Pillars disappear, as do foot-wells, but these can be repaired easily enough if you know one end of a MIG from the other. Nasty spots would also be the ventilation apertures which dissolve due moisture being held by the seals – a tough fix. Radiator panels rust significantly along the bottom. Long wheelbase models have extra strengthening beams for the rear doors which are very prone to corrosion – an expensive fix if economical at all.
The aluminium alloy bodywork is easily damaged and to find a straight Series III is quite an achievement. Difficult to repair well, it is often easier to buy good secondhand panels. Keep an eye out for bi-metallic corrosion between the steel and aluminium which resembles a white, powdery pitting of the lighter metal.
Engine and Transmission:
Two options existed for the duration of SIII production: the 2.25 petrol or diesel lumps. Using the same basic 2286cc block keeps parts supply simple. The early engines have 3 main bearings and are said to be more prone to snapping the crank when compared to the later 5 main bearing units. The petrol is sweeter for driving long distance but fuel consumption can be punishing. The diesel is fairly agricultural but when in good tune is an excellent engine and, despite the rumours, well capable of keeping up with modern traffic. Take that from me. Ensure oil levels are good and coolant maintained as appropriate. Blue smoke on over-run indicates valve stem oil seal wear.
Gearboxes, like the engines, improved as time went on but the main issues are 2nd gear synchro weakness and reverse gear whine. Generally bulletproof otherwise. Clutch is sound but may seize if left unused for a time. Swapping the plates is tricky enough.
Diffs should last as long as the breathers are clear and oil keep well topped up and clean. Watch for corrosion on diff pans. Chrome swivel balls may pit and shred the oil seals, a nasty fix but good to barter over. Stay clear of swivel gaiters as they only trap muck. Don’t forget to check low-range and four wheel drive operation, best done by wheel-spinning on loose gravel.
Brakes, Steering and Suspension:
Drums and leaf springs – They are perfectly fine for everyday use, if well maintained. The brakes should pull sharply, smartly and symmetrically but a heavy trailer behind will certainly make its presence known. Springs, if rusty, will be harsher than new ones. Parabolics are common but, in my opinion, unnecessary. Check the condition of the bushes, a nightmare to change! Steering, again, gets a bad rep but if the 6 ball-joints are kept well greased then there should be no bother here.
Wheels are steel and should be in good condition – a good bartering point. Make sure the spare is present. Tyres are variable in quality but should ideally match all round but definitely on the same axle!
Vinyl and more vinyl. That is unless you’re looking at a County model where there will be cloth seats. The upper and lower dash portions are getting harder to find intact so be sure they aren’t knackered from sun or cigarette damage. Seats are easy to replace and should be comfortable – good for bartering on if damaged. Take a look in the under-passenger cubby box and make sure the steel floor hasn’t dissolved. Doors will leak in the rain, take this as fact. Heaters are asthmatic at best. Electrics are simple and should all be working, easy to check. Speedos (expensive) are very easy to “clock” so be wary of appropriate wear and tear to reflect the mileage.
If you want a project, buy one, if you want a good ‘un then get one. Access is excellent for inspection so there is no excuse to get caught out! Fixer-uppers can be bought from a few hundred pounds and rise to £2000-£3500 for running to tidy to solid examples. Concours 109” Station Wagons can fetch north of £4500. 88”s are usually cheaper with the commercials being the least expensive (but most practical). Diesels are cheaper than petrols usually.
Sellers are usually a friendly bunch but many of them talk a lot. Take the hyperbole of their adventures with a pinch of salt and while oil leaks are common use your head as to whether that puddle is appropriate.
Any questions you have I’ll be happy to answer. I can be contacted via twitter or below.
Words: James Wylie
Pictures: Land Rover UK, Land Rover Centre